A whooping crane nest as seen in satellite imagery versus aerial survey. Photo: Environment and Climate Change Canada
This summer, more than 2,000 citizen scientists helped identify four new whooping crane nests in and around Wood Buffalo National Park.
The collaborative, crowdsourced project invited volunteers to view satellite images and identify possible nests, which were later confirmed by a field team through aerial checks.
In total, 102 nests were counted – marking the first time since whooping crane conservation began, decades ago, that more than 100 nests were observed in this region.
Whooping cranes are an endangered bird, and the Wood Buffalo-Aransas flock is the last wild migratory flock left in the world. The birds nearly went extinct in the 1940s, but have since rebounded thanks to conservation efforts. There are now approximately 500 birds in the flock.
“At least 50 percent of the crane nests yield surviving whooping crane chicks,” said a Wood Buffalo National Park update.
“But the process of counting chicks amongst the thick wetlands of Wood Buffalo is far from perfect, and actual survival rate may be higher.”
While nest and fledgling surveys were cancelled last year due to Covid-19, in 2019 there were 97 nests recorded. Thirty-seven fledglings were counted later in the summer.
By the end of August or early September, the chicks will be strong enough to make the flight down to Aransas, where they winter for the season along the Texas Gulf Coast.
The crowdsourcing project is ongoing, and more virtual volunteers are invited to join the project. To date, 59,000 images have been reviewed – but around 100,000 images taken over a few weeks during the nesting period still need to be looked at.